A mere week after health officials declared the end of Democratic Republic of Congo’s ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, a “cluster of presumptive Ebola cases” have surfaced in the country, according to the World Health Organization.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Ministry of Health informed the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday (August 1) of six possible cases, four of which have come back positive for Ebola virus, although the species responsible remains unclear. These cases follow a July 28 report of 26 cases (including 20 deaths) with indications of hemorrhagic fever.
This outbreak is more than 1,500 miles from the earlier one on the opposite side of the country. “It’s unlikely to be connected to the previous outbreak,” Jessica Ilunga, a spokeswoman for DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga, tells STAT News.
The cases all occurred in a DRC province called North Kivu that borders Rwanda and Uganda. Travel through the village of Mangina, where the majority of the cases are from, has been barred, according to The Washington Post.
Health workers have raised concerns about the potential for the outbreak to spread, as Mangina is only 18 miles west of Beni, a center of trade. “Beni has been deeply unstable for the past few years due to armed conflict and Ebola poses a serious risk to communities already on the edge, and threatens our ability to help them,” Jose Barahona, the charity organization Oxfam’s country director for DRC, tells The Guardian. “This outbreak comes at a time when the country is already unstable, with millions of people caught up in humanitarian crises as a result of ongoing conflicts.”
The WHO is carrying out additional testing and will be working with neighboring countries to prepare them for any possibility, according to CNN. Fortunately, equipment and responders to the earlier outbreak are still in DRC. “This allows us to have a head start in response to this cluster,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, says in the organization’s statement.
In addition, 12 Ministry of Health experts including epidemiologists and doctors will travel to Beni with a mobile laboratory and protective equipment from the National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa.